Coach Nick Charlton talks to his team after a University of Maine football practice last summer. The team has been forced to cancel spring practices, which were to start next week. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Chris Mulvey remembers his first session of spring football at the University of Maine.

“When I was a freshman, spring ball was the biggest turning point of my career,” said the 6-foot-2, 300-pound Mulvey, who will be a senior offensive lineman this fall. “It was where I learned to play with Division I players.”

Maine plays in the Colonial Athletic Association, which canceled spring football practices late last week “in an attempt to mitigate the further spread of the coronavirus,” according to a news release. Other conferences soon followed.

The Black Bears had 15 practices, including three scrimmages, canceled. They were to begin next Tuesday and end on April 24 with the annual Jeff Cole Memorial Spring Game.

UMaine has switched to online learning for the rest of the spring semester and most students have left the Orono campus. There are about 20 football players still living on campus and they work out in small groups. Those who returned home are receiving workout plans to use at home if they cannot return to Orono.

“Anyone who sits there and says losing spring ball is not a big deal, they’re not being honest,” said UMaine Coach Nick Charlton. “But at the same time, the most valuable part of our program is our players. We know how severe everything is and sometimes there are things bigger than sports. It’s a difficult situation for everyone and we’re trying to make the best of it.”

Charlton said it is difficult to come up with a plan “because everything is changing day to day. We’re evaluating every day what goes on, university-wise, and nationally. If the university remains open despite classes being on-line, we want to make it an option for guys to come back and do what we’re allowed to do.”

Maine is keeping in touch with its players through Zoom, a cloud-based video conferencing application that has been installed on all their computers. “We’re trying to be as proactive as possible,” said Charlton.

One emphasis, he said, has to be on academics. “The biggest thing is making sure the guys do what they need to do academically to remain eligible,” said Charlton. “We keep at it. We have daily communication and we’re staying on top of it.”

The other emphasis is on safety. “Spring ball is important in terms of the development of players,” said Charlton. “But you can’t have a football team without players. We’ve got to keep our guys safe (from exposure to the virus), that’s the No. 1 priority right now.”

Mulvey certainly understands that. “What’s the first thing coaches say to your parents when they recruit you? ‘I’m going to keep your son safe,'” said Mulvey. “They want to keep us safe.”

Spring football is always most important for the younger players and those who have played backup roles. “It’s where you learn everything, said Mulvey.

“That first fall, you walk onto campus like a baby deer who doesn’t know how to walk yet. Then you learn in the spring. It’s one thing to learn something on the chalkboard. It’s another to actually do it.”

Deering High graduate Raffaele Salamone, who will be a junior defensive tackle, would have prospered from spring football. He has played in only three games his first two years, but with three defensive line starters graduating, this was his chance to make an impression.

“I was banking on it for getting myself a head start for playing time come fall,” said the 6-3, 266-pound Salamone, who is home in Portland but lives in an apartment in Old Town. “I guess I’ve got to roll with the punches now. When camp starts in August, the stakes will be higher.”

Salamone said the toughest part was not knowing what to expect. “No one knows anything,” he said. “We’re kind of waiting to hear something to base a schedule on. I guess the big thing is to act like spring ball is still going on.”

“You can’t simulate some things without practices,” said Old Town’s Andre Miller, who will be a senior wide receiver. “But you’ve got to keep yourself ready to go for whenever we get the date to go back.”

Maine had several positions to look at in spring ball. The Black Bears are experienced at linebacker, cornerback and offensive line, but they graduated their top two wide receivers and top two rushers.

And, Charlton said, “We want to continue to develop our quarterback, and all our other quarterbacks, because we’re going to be young there.”

Joe Fagnano stepped in as a freshman when Chris Ferguson was injured and started the last six games, passing for 1,835 yards and 17 touchdowns while completing 65.8 percent of his passes. After Ferguson transferred to Liberty, Maine’s depth chart at the position includes four freshmen and sophomore Grant Hartley of Auburn and Edward Little High.

“Joe is young and the running back position is wide open,” said Charlton. “That’s disappointing. I wanted to see those guys and open that competition up.”

Fagnano, 18, is back home in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where he plans to work out with some of his former high school teammates.

“Being away from the guys, it’s more mental than physical,” he said. “You’re going to have to do a lot more on your own.”

Fagnano said he was disappointed to lose his first spring season.

“I was looking forward to it, looking to establish myself as a leader,” he said. ‘But adversity hits and you’ve got to stay positive. These are tough times, but we’ve got to stand together.”

That’s the message Charlton gave the players as they broke for spring break.

“One day we will be playing football,” he said. “We need that perspective now. And when that day comes, we need to be ready.”


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